SPORTS

NL wild card: 3 things to watch

10/01/2014 01:09 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST
They have a tough act to follow after Tuesday night's and Wednesday morning's American League wild card opener, won 9-8 by the Kansas City Royals over the Oakland A's, but the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants each like their chances in tonight's National League wild card game at Pittsburgh's PNC Park at 8:07 p.m. ET.

The Pirates were in the exact same position a year ago, hosting Cincinnati in the wild card game. They won and moved on to the National League Divisional Series. 

Twice World Series champions in the last four years (2010 and 2012), the Giants returned to the playoffs after falling short in 2013. They were unable to catch the Los Angeles Dodgers for the N.L. West title but finished 14 games over .500 after missing the playoffs last year when they were 76-86 and fourth in their division.

Here are three things to watch in this evening's game:

Pirates' 1-2 punch: McCutchen, Harrison

It was no surprise that 2013 N.L. Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen would be a key cog in the Pirates' return to the post-season, but it's a major surprise that he's been accompanied by Josh Harrison. The Pirate duo finished second (Harrison, .315) and third (McCutchen, .314) to Canada's Justin Morneau (.319) in the chase for the NL batting title.

The 27-year-old Harrison didn't even have a regular spot in the line-up when the season began after spending more time in Triple A ball in 2013 then he did in the majors. However, he collected 164 hits, knocked in 52 runs and tied with McCutchen for second on the team in stolen bases with 18. (Starling Marte led the Pirates with 30).

McCutchen followed up last season's MVP campaign with another excellent year, pacing the club in homers, 25, and RBI, 83 to go along with 172 hits and his usual fine outfield defence.

Giants' beast of burden: Madison Bumgarner

On the mound for the Giants tonight is 25-year-old Madison Bumgarner, the six-foot-five, 235-pound lefty, who enjoyed a standout season. He had career highs in wins (18) and strikeouts (219) while turning in a 2.98 earned run average.

He's only made one career start at PNC Park, back in 2011 when he allowed one run in six innings, but he's been a road warrior for the Giants this season, going 11-4 in 18 starts with a 2.28 ERA.

In the post-season in 2010 and 2012, Bumgarner was 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA in six starts.

Home Park Advantage: PNC, the Black Sea

Exactly one year ago today, a PNC Park record 40,487 Pirates' faithful rocked the stadium to witness Pittsburgh's first playoff game in 31 years. 

Adhering to the team's request, the fans dressed primarily in black, creating a Black Sea visually and noisy support that Cincinnati Reds' ace Johnny Cueto had to have been affected. The Pirates roared to a 6-2 victory.

MORE:cbcSports